Saturday, August 9, 2014

Gospel of Mark Study (5)

Gospel of Mark Study
Week Five

1.     Mark 9.1      “And Jesus was saying to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there are some of those
who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.’”

a.     Views on what “seeing the kingdom of God coming with power” means:

                                                        i.     Transfiguration
                                                       ii.     Resurrection and ascension
                                                     iii.     Pentecost
                                                     iv.     Spread of Christianity
                                                       v.     Destruction of Jerusalem
                                                     vi.     Second Advent

b.     Perhaps some connection between transfiguration and one of the other options

·      “The three Evangelists who record the saying (in varying terms) go on immediately to describe Jesus’ transfiguration, as though that event bore some relation to the saying (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36).  It cannot be said that the transfiguration was the event which Jesus said would come within the lifetime of some of his hearers; one does not normally use such language to refer to something that is to take place in a week’s time.  But the three disciples who witnessed the transfiguration had a vision of the Son of Man vindicated and glorified; they saw in graphic anticipation the fulfillment of his words about the powerful advent of the kingdom of God.”[1]

2.     Mark 9.2-13    Transfiguration

a.     Seeing Jesus “transformed” and full of glory was meant to encourage Peter, James, and John in light of Jesus’ comments about suffering

b.     Glory radiating from Jesus (9.3); unlike what Paul experiences in Acts 9.3 (“a light from heaven flashed around him”)

c.      Second time God the Father speaks of his “beloved Son”

                                      i.     Mark 1.11  Jesus’ baptism; Father blesses Jesus’ baptism and upcoming ministry
                                     ii.     Mark 9.7  Father blesses Jesus talk of his impending death and resurrection

d.     They must leave the mountain to go to Jerusalem à the place of suffering

e.     “Sensory overrides”: T. M. Luhrmann (psychological anthropologist, Stanford)

                                      i.     “So I call these occasional sensory perceptions of the immaterial sensory overrides because they are moments when perception overrides the material stimulus.  They are not experienced as mis-remembering.  They are experienced as the sensory perception of something external.  The judgment is automatic and basic.  That’s why it’s so startling.”[2]

                                     ii.     Alvin Plantinga (foremost philosopher of religion in N. America)

·      During my second semester, however, there were two events that resolved these doubts and ambivalences for me. One gloomy evening (in January, perhaps) I was returning from dinner, walking past Widenar Library to my fifth floor room in Thayer Middle (there weren't any elevators, and scholarship boys occupied the cheaper rooms at the top of the building). It was dark, windy, raining, nasty. But suddenly it was as if the heavens opened; I heard, so it seemed, music of overwhelming power and grandeur and sweetness; there was light of unimaginable splendor and beauty; it seemed I could see into heaven itself; and I suddenly saw or perhaps felt with great clarity and persuasion and conviction that the Lord was really there and was all I had thought. The effects of this experience lingered for a long time; I was still caught up in arguments about the existence of God, but they often seemed to me merely academic, of little existential concern, as if one were to argue about whether there has really been a past, for example, or whether there really were other people, as opposed to cleverly constructed robots.”[3]

3.     Mark 9.14-29

a.     Similar structure to episode with Syrophoenician woman

                                      i.     Beginning: man with son who has a demon
                                     ii.     End: man with a son without a demon
                                   iii.     Middle: Discussion about the nature and object of faith
                                   iv.     Not just about “doing good”; Jesus seeks to clarify the man’s perception of who he is

b.     Observation exercise: what do we learn about demons from this passage?

                                      i.     makes boy mute and deaf (v. 17, 25)
                                     ii.     causes physical manifestations (v. 18, 20)
                                   iii.     controls the body of the boy (v. 26)
                                   iv.     seeks to kill boy (v. 22)
                                     v.     resists being cast out (v. 18)
                                   vi.     there are levels of evil spirits (v. 29—“this kind”)[4]
                                  vii.     spirit in son from “childhood” (v. 21)
                                viii.     reacted to the presence of Jesus (v. 20)
                                   ix.     seemingly the spirit causes persistent, ongoing problem (mute) and sporadic problems (convulsions) (v. 17, 18)
                                     x.     Jesus rebukes and commands the evil spirit (v. 25)
                                   xi.     prayer affects ability to cast out demons (v. 29)
                                  xii.     Jesus calls it a  “deaf and mute spirit” (v. 25)

c.      Need for prayer (v. 29) and yet Jesus didn’t pray in this situation

                                      i.     “The implication of Jesus’ words are that the disciples had not sufficiently prepared themselves in prayer for such an event as this.”[5]

                                     ii.     Should motivate us to pray

d.     Reading this passage for contemporary application for dealing with demons (?)

                                      i.     Tod K. Vogt, “Jesus and the Demons in the Gospel of Mark: Contrasting Secular and Animistic Interpretations” Journal of Applied Missiology 7 (1996), n. p. Online: 

1.     Vogt worked among the Fon Christians of Benin, West Africa and he interviewed various church leaders about how they read specific narratives in the Gospel of Mark (1.21-28; 5.1-20; 9.14-29) regarding the demonic.[6]

                                     ii.     “They interpret it practically.  There is a general acceptance of this type of demon possession and this passage gives them clues as to a proper response.  Fon Christians believe demon possession of this nature is common and there is little or no temptation to seek larger thematic meanings.  They quickly identify with the possession of the boy and are glad to receive teaching on how best to deal with this possession.”[7]

e.     Exorcism as a factor in the early church

                                      i.     Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire—A.D. 100-400 (Yale University Press, 1984)

1.     “But we have Justin boasting ‘how many persons possessed by demons, everywhere in the world and in our own city, have been exorcised by many of our Christian men’; Irenaeus asserting that ‘some people incontestably and truly drive out demons, so that those very persons often become believers’; Tertullian issuing the challenge, ‘let a man be produced right here before your court who, it is clear, is possessed by a demon, and that spirit, commanded by any Christian at all, will as much confess himself a demon in truth as, by lying, he will elsewhere profess himself a “god”’; and Cyprian once again declaring that demons in idols, ‘when they are adjured by us in the name of the true God, yield forthwith, and confess, and admit they are forced also to leave the bodies they have invaded; and you may see them, by our summons and by the workings of hidden majesty, consumed with flames.’” (p. 27)[8]

2.     “How did ever happen that the church could grow at such a rate, so as to actually to predominate in occasional little towns or districts by the turn of the second century and, by the turn of the fourth, to have attained a population of, let us say, five million?” (p. 32)

3.     “Where, then, could believers make contact with unbelievers to win them over?  Surely the answer must somehow lie where the Christians themselves direct our attention—among those endless drivings-out of demons, for one thing.  For another, in quite obscure settings of everyday.” (pp. 36-37)

4.     Next Week: Read Mark 11-13  Jesus in Jerusalem; controversy and judgment

a.     What do you make of Jesus’ cursing the fig tree (11.12-14, 20-21)?  What happens between v. 14 and v. 20 that may help explain the cursing of the fig tree?  Note: Some Old Testament texts on “figs”—Jeremiah 8.11-13; Micah 7.1; Habakkuk 3.17.
b.     Mark 12.1 Jesus alludes to Isaiah 5.1-7.  How is this OT text relevant?
c.      Mark 13: Referring to judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70 or future second coming of Christ?  Both? 
d.     Major theme of Mark 13  (vv. 5 and 37).  Any other verses stating this theme?

     [1] F. F. Bruce in Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 1996), 429.
     [2] T. M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (New York: Vintage, 2012), 216-217.
     [3] Alvin Plantinga, “Spiritual Autobiography” (1992), 7.  Online:
     [4] “…it is difficult not to interpret that Jesus here means a specific kind or class of demon, the implication being that there are various kinds or classes of demons.”  John Christopher Thomas, The Devil, Disease and Deliverance: Origins of Illness in New Testament Thought (New York, NY: Sheffield Academic, 1998), 157.
     [5] John Christopher Thomas, The Devil, Disease and Deliverance: Origins of Illness in New Testament Thought (New York, NY: Sheffield Academic, 1998), 158.
     [6] See my essay “The Reformed Tradition and the Miraculous: Some Reflections.”  Online: 
     [7] See the case study of exorcisms in Ethiopia: Amsalu Tadesse Geletta, “Case Study: Demonization and the Practice of Exorcism in the Ethiopian Church” (2000).  Online:
     [8] See my blog post: “Charismatic Gifts and Church History: Some Comments.”  Online: